Nov 102012

BussinessInsider decided to investigate how advertisers have featured LGBT people in their ads over the years. How do ads illustrate a shift in society’s perspective over time?

Well, there were some shockers. Like the 1950′s ad warning children of the sick homosexuals wondering the streets, or the classy Guinness ad from 1995 that was never aired because it was considered too shocking at the time.

But, we have come a long way since those days. Ads today are both inclusive and respectful, and often boldly targeting the LGBT community directly. And, as Adweek reported, the LGBT community is currently estimated to represent a $743 billion market. That makes it is a seriously important market for advertisers to watch.

1940′s – Jester Wools “I’ve robbed the rainbow.”

At the time, the word ‘gay’ solely acted as a substitution for ‘happy.’

Homosexuality wasn’t a part of mainstream media, so potentially homoerotic scenes were published in entirely innocent contexts.


1961: The Inglewood, California Police Department and School District’s “Boys Beware” ad.

Homosexuality was only referred to in the context of anti-gay public service announcements. This PSA warned, “be careful when you meet a stranger, one never knows when the homosexual is about.” Gay men were said to be sick, and stereotyped with creepy facial hair.

1989: The gay community was essentially ignored by Madison Avenue for decades. Absolut made headlines when it began advertising in gay magazines The Advocate and After Dark.

1995: Guinness, “Men and Women Shouldn’t Live Together.”

Society was certainly evolving around the issues of gay rights, but we still had a long way to go. Guinness made an ad featuring a co-habitating gay couple, via agency Ogilvy & Mather. Even though it only showed a small peck on the cheek, the ad was never aired as a result of an aggressive backlash by anti-gay groups.

1995: Solo orange juice.

In Norway, audiences were a bit easier going. This ad for an orange juice company, created by JBW, shows a woman and man in a restaurant making eye-contact from across the room. Oops! The woman is disappointed when the man’s boyfriend shows up.

1997: Johnny Walker, “Marriage.”

Things seemed to be looking up. This ad for Johnny Walker, by Leo Burnett, first appears to be a quiet montage of a man and woman on their wedding day, but turns out to be a father happily taking his daughter to marry her girlfriend.

2004: Virgin Atlantic.

There were a couple bumps along the way. While Virgin Atlantic is known as supporter of the LGBT community, this hilarious ad for Virgin Atlantic, created by BBDO South Africa, seems to have a bit of a homophobic undertone.

2006: Toyota, “One Thing You Can Count On.”

The positive dialogue continued into 2006 with this ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi. A father begrudgingly waits to meet his daughter’s date, asking “Is this one like all the others?” Her response is a knowing, “not exactly.” Once he sees the Toyota park in front, he is satisfied enough to walk back inside, at which point the daughter leaps into the car to kiss her new girlfriend.

2010:, “Prop 8.”

By 2010, pro-gay rights ads were common on primetime television and across the internet. Justin Long starred in this cheeky ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, to support the overturn of California’s Prop 8, a ballot proposition that made same-sex marriage are illegal.

2010: McDonald’s, “Come as you are.”

In the same year, McDonald’s ran this ad in France, in which a teenager struggles to come out to his father. The company declined to run the ad in the U.S. Why? Because the company’s COO, Don Thompson is a Christian, reported CBS News, noting he only allowed it to air in France because homosexuality is a “cultural norm” there.

2011: Absolut, “OUTrageous.” Absolut is still at it. The brand created this ad in celebration of 30 years of the company’s support of the LGBT community. This ad was part of a $4 million dollar campaign, from TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York.

2012: Chevy Volt, “Mom, Dad, I’m Electric.” A major supporter of Pride Week, General Motors released this ad in celebration of Motor City Pride weekend, in Detroit.

2012: Amtrak, “Ride With Pride.” Brands now see equal rights as more than just charitable moments, and the gay community is just one more target market

2012: JC Penney, “Father’s Day.” It’s not all smooth waters. JC Penney stirred up controversy over this Father’s Day ad featuring two real-life dads and their kids. The anti-gay group One Million Moms boycotted JCPenney after it ran a similar ad featuring a lesbian couple.

2012: Ray Ban, “Never Hide.” While there are still battles to be fought, the LGBT community is mostly represented positively in advertising these days

Samantha Felix